Early Scots-Episcopacy

While reading about the Aberdeen doctors, I discovered that they were all Episcopalians. I thought this was interesting because I usually associate Reformed versions of episcopacy with England rather than Scotland.

John Forbes of Corse was the most famous representative of the Aberdeen doctors, and he was exiled for his views. Indeed, it seems that the only position of which he could be found culpable in the eyes of the Scottish theologians was his refusal to sign the Solemn League and Covenant. The Covenanters deposed him from his teaching position at the university, took his house, exiled him to Holland, and even forbade him a burial alongside his family. Charming fellows they were.

Forbes’ defense of the Scottish system of “Superintendents” is available on google books.

It turns out that Robert Rollock also held to an episcopal form of church government, as he penned a work entitled Episcopal Government instituted by Christ, and confirmed by Scripture and Reason.

In fact, the first Book of Discipline put out by the Scottish Church in 1560 divided Scotland into 10 ecclesiastical districts, each with their own superintendent. This was the official form of government until 1592, when Melville succeeded in acquiring a Presbyterian form of government, though it only lasted for about twenty years. This stage of Prebyterianism never fully took over, as Aberdeen resisted it. Episcopacy was reinstated until the so-called second Reformation where the Covenanters claimed a divine right of presbyterian rule. The Aberdeen doctors made their stand against jure divino on the lawfully established forms of the Scottish Church, and they accused the Covenanters of innovation and rebellion.

Geddes MacGregor explains that this form of Scottish episcopacy, whose bishops went by the name “superintendents,” was an attempt at preserving the continuing Ecclesia Scoticana. MacGregor writes:

The Ecclesia Scoticana they were bent on restoring was in many ways anomalous and paradoxical. In Columban times, for instance, it had had features that would be inconsistent with modern Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman practice alike. Its primates, presbyters-abbots, had no commission from Rome; its bishops were nullius dioceseos and subject to the authority of presbyters; its presbyters did not exercise Episcopal functions corporately or otherwise, reserving these strictly to the bishops acting as individuals yet under presbyteral direction.

Corpus Christi, 75

About the Scottish Church at the time of the Reformation he adds:

The notion of a separation from the old Church could not well be in the Scottish Reformers’ minds, since in 1560, of the thirteen Roman Sees, four were vacant officially while five others were for practical purposes vacant, so that apart from questions of ecclesiology, which was still everywhere immature if not inchoate, it would have seemed more natural to the Scottish Reformers to view their action as casting off the Kirk’s bonds than of separating from these.

ibid, 71

Thus the Scottish Church naturally adopted a system of government that it saw as basically consistent with the established order. It rarely had to overthrow powerful Roman bishops. Few were to be found.

MacGregor describes the role of these superintendents in stating:

The superintendents had the pastoral and administrative functions of bishops and were placed over regions described as dioceses; in 1572 the Kirk adopted instead the designation ‘bishops’ and ‘archbishops.’

ibid, 70

He also mentions that Knox was offered an episcopate, but declined due to inopportune circumstances. Knox did not protest another taking the see, however, and indeed it was under Knox that the first Book of Discipline was issued.

Obviously episcopal government is not inconsistent with Reformed theology. The Churches in England and in Hungary retained bishops, and now we see that the Scots did as well, though their form was later changed.

We also begin to see, particularly through a study of Rollock along with the Aberdeen doctors, that a true “moderate” (acknowledging the infelicity of this term) Calvinism existed in Scotland, as well as in England and Germany.

Reformed Anglicans

So much of trouble in the realm of Church history arises when a false barrier is erected between “Anglican” and “Reformed” theologians. This distinction makes sense now. It does not in the 16th and 17th centuries.

I don’t mean that there was no diversity. Quite the opposite is the case. There was much diversity. However, the doctrinal position of the Church of England, along with its leading intellectuals, was thoroughly Reformed. Pretty much all of the “Puritans” were Anglicans. Some were Presbyterian, but they nevertheless viewed themselves as members of the Church of England. We could list Perkins, Preston, Calamy, Twisse, Gataker, Vines, and Cornelius Burges among these names.

The “Puritans,” though are often posed against the “Anglicans,” and thus the Puritans are considered the Reformed who may have existed within the Church of England, but nevertheless represented a different species altogether. I think such an assumption is wrong.

There are a number of ways to go about straightening this out. We could point out Vermigli and Bucer’s presence early on. We could mention that Knox personally worked on the Book of Common Prayer. But we could also simply list the clearly “Anglican” Reformed theologians.

Off the top of my head I came up with these names:

William Tyndale
Thomas Cranmer* (Archbishop of Canterbury)
John Frith
Hugh Latimer
Nicholas Ridley
John Hooper
Edmund Grindal* (Archbishop of Canterbury)
John Whitgift* (Archbishop of Canterbury)
George Abbot* (Archbishop of Canterbury)
John Jewel
Richard Hooker
John Davenant
Samuel Ward
Joseph Hall
James Ussher
William Bedell

Those last two are Irish, but definitely within the Anglican mix of their day.

I think that even Overall and Andrewes make more sense as moderate Reformed theologians than anything else. Overall thinks he is promoting a via media, but Davenant takes that via media to the Synod of Dort and has it approved. As for Andrewes, I need only refer you to Peter Escalante’s treatment of him here.

I’m sure there are more names that could be listed.  I wouldn’t want to deny that there is a difference between Reformed Anglicanism in the 17th cent. and later Presbyterianism, but I would insist that both belong under the larger heading of “Reformed.”